Book Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Nightfire (October 4, 2022)
Length: 274 pages
There’s no place on the planet quite like Lute, an idyllic little island off the British coast. And for the last seven years, protagonist Nina Treadway has been happy to call it home. An American, she moved here after getting married to be with her husband Hugh, whose family has been the island’s protectors for generations. Now the mother of two young children, Nina can’t imagine a more perfect and beautiful place to raise them, especially with another world war raging out beyond Lute’s peaceful shores.
But all that happiness and harmony demands a price. There’s a reason why Lute is said to be blessed with good fortune, why the weather is always mild and none of its residents have ever been lost to war. As wife of Lord Treadway, Nina has heard of The Day, of course, but she has always dismissed it as a myth or local legend. On the face of it, it just sounds too outlandish to believe. As the story goes, every seventh year on the summer solstice, the island claims the lives of seven random people as sacrifice. On this day, the people of Lute, normally so warm and welcoming, become highly unsettled and extra careful—for no one knows who will die, only that by The Day’s end, there will be seven fewer among them. No more, no less.
As the book opens on the eve of The Day, Nina is still ever the skeptic, watching as everyone around her prepares to hunker down. By this same time tomorrow though, she will learn for herself the truth of the island and be horrified and humbled by the weight of the Treadway title and the responsibilities that come with it.
The novel Lute is named for the island obviously, which is quite appropriate considering the setting is as much a character as the humans. I very much enjoyed author Jennifer Thorne’s descriptions of Lute, a haven untouched by the violence and strife in a world ravaged by brutal fighting. While the major powers at large are waging war over resources, our eponymous island has everything it’ll ever need, seemingly in a separate existence than everything else. The resulting impression is of a tiny pocket of civilization forgotten by time, which might explain how, at first, I actually thought this book was a historical, when in fact it takes place in modern times or perhaps in a not-too-distant dystopia future.
I also believe this had a lot to do with what made Lute so effective as a horror novel. Thorne builds up the island as a peaceful and safe refuge, when in reality it is anything but. As we get to the parts where The Day starts claiming its first victims, initially I found the sudden bloodbath difficult to square away with my first impressions of the island. It made the brutality of the deaths feel starker and more ominous.
As a character Nina was particularly well developed, especially her transition from a doubting outsider to a full-fledged islander who finally understands what she is up against, going through the full gamut of emotions ranging from uncertainty, disbelief, confusion, guilt, and finally acceptance. The various side characters are also well written, namely the handful of close friends Nina has made since arriving on the island, the way they have adopted our American protagonist as one of their own even though the United States was on the wrong side of the war.
In fact, my only criticism of this novel was everything outside of the scope of the characters and happenings on Lute. That is, the entire background of the resource war was not very well explained or developed, and to be honest, all of it—the war, Nina’s American roots, etc.—came across as rather unnecessary, as in the story would have worked just as well without any of that. There was also a quality to the backdrop which felt tacked on, like the author decided to throw in the dystopian aspect only after the fact, or perhaps this book initially began as a World War II story before she decided to update the setting and create conditions for a new war (which might also explain the aforementioned historical vibes I got from this). After a while, I even learned to tune out the world outside Lute as nothing more than a distraction to the more immediate terrors and tragedies unfolding on the island.
All in all, Lute was not without its flaws, but as a horror novel, its premise was intriguing and the execution of it was solid. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an atmospheric read which embraces the simple pleasures of the genre.